RELEASE DATE: 26 Aug, 2015

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

Every Thursday and Sunday, countless shoppers flood the Feria 16 de Julio in El Alto. It can appear that every resident of both El Alto and La Paz come to this single neighborhood, where just about anything under the sun is available for the right price. One can easily be overwhelmed by the mass movements of people, the ebb and flow of shoppers washing the streets with the kinetic energy of commerce.

On a recent trip to this market, I was easily taken over by this flood, bumping shoulders with merchants and shoppers alike as we squeezed down the neighborhood’s narrowest streets. The movement seemed chaotic and more than a little claustrophobic, and in short time I sought respite from the clutter among the ridge above the autopista, the ribbon of road that delivers cars, cabs and minibuses from La Paz up to El Alto.

Below me spread central La Paz. To my right the bright sun ascended towards its zenith, casting a blanket of golden warmth across the city. From this distance, the city seemed calm, serene. Despite the many cracks and crags wrinkling and pocking the face of this metropolis, and the traffic jams and roadblocks I knew were occurring below, it all seemed almost organized.

Bolivia is a complex place, with a diverse collection of environments, from the urban clutter of high-altitude La Paz and El Alto to the most remote and wild lowlands of the Amazon Basin. But what does this diversity mean for individual people in Bolivia? What does this place mean for the backpacker in La Paz lugging her heavy rucksack to her hostel after descending from the bus terminal? For a city resident looking for a rural escape from the urban grind? For the new lovers looking to a plaza for a moment of ‘privacy’? For the llama herder on La Cumbre, who collects the last of his flock and looks upward at the blanket of stars shining above him?   

In this issue of Bolivian Express, we set out to explore not so much different ‘places’ in Bolivia, but to dig deeper and to view Bolivia through ‘spaces’. That is, to highlight the diversity of place here, we wanted to go deeper than the descriptive. We set out to take a look at the environments in which Bolivians (and foreigners) navigate their work, their play, their day-to-day life, and how they create and interact with those spaces, consciously and subconsciously. Beyond explanatory descriptions of locations and scenarios, we set out to highlight the relationships between people and the places in which they exist.  

In our explorations, we discovered spaces here beyond the physical. We realized that the places around us contain spaces for the cultural, the political, the spiritual, the metaphysical – sometimes all at once.

As I stood at the edge of crowded market day in El Alto and stared down at the irregular patchwork of La Paz’s streets, I gained a sense of the complexity of space here. Each one of the millions of people here are tasked with navigating their way through the places around them – to engage with their environment, to respond to it, to make it their own.

These are the stories we set out to tell.



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